Learn to Cook!

One of the biggest arguments I had with the nutritionists at my diabetes training class was twofold:

  • They had this distressing hand up their back from the American Heart Association, which colored every bit of advice they gave with information with a totally different agenda
  • They had this immense blind spot where it came to homemade food.

Don't get me wrong, the AHA is a great organization -- I have a heart condition that predated my diabetes, stable angina from blockages in the tiny vessels around the heart, something that can't be stented, and I learned a lot from them -- but frankly, I get more than a little annoyed at the proto-vegan spin on everything.

Veggies have their place...but sorry, guys, I like meat! And I happen to have a passing acquaintance with some food science, and know that most of the problems we have with our health come not from good, wholesome food like meat, natural fats and oils, good grains, and foods like butter and cheese that we've eaten for thousands of years, but instead from the weird, chemistry-set products of laboratory made "convenience" foods. The single most dangerous thing we ever did was to run hydrogen through liquid fat to make it solid at room temperature and keep it from going rancid. It made it last longer, but it also turned it into health plutonium. And margarine might have been cheaper in wartime, but we might as well have been feeding our kids whipped asbestos for all the good we were doing them.

Butter is not evil. Butter has healthful components in it, 30% monounsaturated fat (the good kind), vitamin a, and naturally-occurring conjugated linoleic acid, which is linked to reducing some forms of cancer. Kids fed nothing but margarine on their food don't look healthy. Those fed butter look glowingly healthy. Margarine is a lie, and a dangerous one.

Oh, but now we have fancy spreads that aren't evil like margarine! Yeah, but they're frankenfoods, too. If you really can't stand butter, why not just dip your bread in some nice, fruity extra-virgin olive oil, like they've done in Europe since they learned to press the things? It's very tasty, and olive oil is good for you. (And half the Board of the AHA just exploded...which is my point.)

The other point is that my class spent an incredible amount of time learning to read food labels. Yep, read the silly little labels on prepared food packages. This is predicated on the assumption that we were going to get practically all of our nutrition from boxes, cans, and bags, with neat little barcodes on them, the contents precisely totted up for us. And get this -- here they are, practically telling us to buy processed food, then cautioning us to watch our sodium! (There's that puppeteer from the AHA again!)

Processed, prepared foods are loaded with sodium! Why not recommend that we make our own food, so we can control the sodium? I just didn't get it!


I don't buy a whole lot of preprocessed food. Instead, I buy staples: raw meat (I have a BIG freezer), veggies, grains, wholesome raw materials, and I did something unusual.

I learned to cook.

Now, I already knew a bit. I learned to handle myself in the kitchen, at least reasonably well, when I was a kid. I've always loved to cook, and always did most of it in the house, but I never went out of my way to learn to cook...until I got stuck in a chair for the better part of a year, and my health became paramount. Then the Food Network became my teacher, and I really started to learn. I bought books on food science and cooking that really taught me. And I started to make what I didn't want to buy anymore.

I don't buy soda anymore, because I don't want to drink the commercial stuff. I can't drink the stuff sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup anymore, I won't drink it with cane sugar (too sweet), and I'm allergic to Nutrasweet. So I make my own, with a carbonation kit. I make club soda, flavored seltzers, and my own diet soda with sucralose. Once in a while, I make a soda with a lower level of cane sugar, and have a small amount with my partner, who isn't diabetic. And that's fine.

If I feel energetic, I can make my own pasta. I can control how much egg is in it, what kind of eggs, how much salt is in it, what kind of salt, what kind of oil is in it, and how much. I can also control the flour used in it. And any fillings in ravioli -- hey, I can control the content in those, too! And sauce...no JARS. Unless I'm half dead, and we're starving. I can make better in 15 minutes.

Prepared soup is evil with sodium. One cup of typical prepared chicken noodle soup has around 1100 milligrams of sodium -- that's half your recommended allotment, in a single cup of soup. A single prepared lunch entree has the rest of it. How about something like "Dinty Moore" beef stew? One serving is 984 milligrams of sodium...and that's about the rest of your sodium for the day. Maybe enough left to sprinkle on popcorn.

So make your own, and control what you eat.

The best thing I got recently was a full 36-disk set of "Good Eats" DVDs, with the genius of Alton Brown, teaching the science of cooking along with the recipes. (Hey, it was on sale!) That's over 50 hours of concentrated food science, and frankly, the "Ask Alton" additional material included with each episode adds unbelievable value. There's everything, literally, from soup to nuts.

One thing I made recently using an Alton recipe was a batch of lentil soup that rocked. I only modified the recipe in one way, by adding about 1 oz of chopped pepperoni, to give it a little bite, and because I ain't no vegan. A bit of plain yogurt on top to make it nice and creamy, and YUM! It was so filling and satisfying, I couldn't believe it. Now, I'm not normally one to eat beans, but this soup was magnificent.
And now, I'm looking at his Baked Beans recipe and wondering if I've been missing something good all these years.

It didn't have one grain more salt than it needed to make it taste good. And I could have substituted some of our potassium-chloride replacement if I wanted.

While I was in my class, the lady next to me asked about her family's favorite recipe -- beans with smoked turkey -- that she made at least once a week, and they ate several times a week as leftovers. The nutritionist chided her for the sodium content in the smoked turkey, and suggested she make it without the turkey, which made the woman look at her askance. Smoked turkey and beans without the turkey? What are you on? At that point, make Boston Baked Beans...but, as Alton would say, that's a different show.

So I suggested she make the smoked turkey herself, and control the sodium. It's quite simple -- don't add it. Smoking doesn't require salt as part of the process, only the amount necessary to season the food to taste. The nutritionist yelled at me! She said that I might have time to mess around with making stuff myself, but others didn't have hours and hours to waste on such things.

Waste? Making your own food is cheaper, healthier, tastier, and more fun. And you can involve your family and spread the love. How can something this wholesome and downright central to life be a waste? When I see this kind of attitude, I blame it on one of three things:
  • Ignorance
  • Stupidity
  • Laziness
  • Promotion of an Agenda
When I see it in one person, I usually pick one of the first three. When I see it in more than one person, I pick the last. The other educators were nodding. Hmph.

Thankfully, the woman ignored her and asked me how to smoke the turkey. I told her how to get a stovetop smoker, soak some wood chips, and smoke turkey legs herself with only a small amount of salt to taste. (You could also do it with a homemade smoker in your yard, made from a big terra-cotta pot, a hot plate, and a metal grill, if you were doing a lot of turkey at once. And it would make damned good barbecue, too. Again...Alton.)

I was not impressed with the strange, cross-purposes stuff at the class. It was this weird mix of absolutely-critical knowledge that we HAD to have along with this melange of oddball ideas from a half-dozen ashrams and sign-waver cults that have gained popularity among some California medical schools. Personally, I don't believe PETA, the Vegan Movement, and heck, the Hare Krishnas for all I know, should be inspiring my health information.

Given my experience, I'd much rather it come from someone with a spatula in their hand than a binder.

Good insight into the epicurean F.U.D world. Couldn’t agree more.

Excellent read, and couldn’t agree with you more. I love cooking. I’ve always wanted to get myself a pasta maker, and lately I’ve been disappointed because Australia doesn’t seem to have any low-carb pasta available like they do in the US. As I read your blog, a light bulb went off over my head - I can make my own low carb pasta! Why not? I make my own pizza dough, and like you I also make my own sugar free fizzy drinks too. It’s so nice to meet someone like minded!

Thanks for giving me a great idea I’ll have fun exploring.

I remember sitting in my diabetes nutrition class just stunned looking around at all the participants. I just couldnt believe they were blindly soaking it all in and not questioning anything. Needless to say I did not go back for the second session.